************ Sermon on Isaiah 46:1-9 ************


By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman


This sermon was preached on December 31, 2013


Isaiah 46:1-9
Isaiah 46:5
"To Whom Will You Compare God"
Old Years 2013

Introduction
AT&T has a clever series of TV advertisements about their cell phone service. I am sure you have seen them. A man asks a bunch of kids, "What's better: Bigger or smaller? Faster or slower? More or less?" The children's answers are odd, sweet, and hilarious. It is better to be fast like mom than slow like grandma because grandma will get hit as she crosses the road. It is better to save lots of money than a little bit of money because then you can buy an island of candy. A big tree house is better than a small tree house. A fast car is better than a slow car. The point? HOLD UP/READ NEWSPAPER ADVERT ...

At the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, let's ask the same question about the God we serve. "What's better: Bigger or smaller? Faster or slower? More or less?"

In our text for this last night of 2013, God invites us to compare Him to all other gods:
(Isa 46:5) "To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"
Verse 1 mentions the idol gods Bel and Nebo. Bel was the Babylonian sun god, the main God of Babylon. Nebo was his son, the god of writing and learning, the god of the prophets. King Belshazzar was named after Bel. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar in honor of this same god. Nebuchadnezzar, on the other hand, was named after Nebo. In comparison to these two gods is Jehovah, the God of the Bible.

"Who's better: Bel or Jehovah?" Many in Israel were asking this question because it seemed that Babylon's gods were bigger, better, and stronger than Israel's God, than the God of the Bible. They thought this because Israel was captive in Babylon. All the while, under its gods, Babylon was victorious and prosperous and carried nation after nation into captivity. So, "Who's better: Bel or Jehovah?"

Our passage gives us 4 comparisons between Bel and Jehovah. Isaiah's main point in these comparisons: "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isa 46:9).

I First Comparison - Carry
A In the first comparison we see that the gods of the heathen are carried whereas God carries His people. Listen to what Isaiah says about the idol gods:
(Isa 46:1) Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.

(Isa 46:7) They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles.
Right now Bel and Nebo may look and sound triumphant. But there will come a time when Bel bows down and Nebo stoops low. Isaiah is thinking of the time of Cyrus the Persian (cf Isa 45). At that time it is Babylon and its gods who will suffer defeat.

What happens to Bel and Nebo when the Medes and Persians come rolling into town? They and their images will be carried about. Instead of providing rescue, they are one more burden to be lifted up. They themselves go into captivity.

According to Isaiah, what a burden – a god that needs to be carried from place to place. You are moving: "Honey, did you remember the gods? Did you pick them up and pack them away?"

Think of Rachel, stealing and then carrying the household gods of Laban (Gen 31:19). What kind of god needs to be carried? What kind of god can be carried?

A god who can be carried is a god who is weak and powerless. This kind of god serves us and offers only temporary help for the problems of life.

As we go through life we have many gods that we carry with us. Our gods don't go by the name of Bel and Nebo anymore. Instead, they go by the name of Coors, Jack Daniels, Crack Cocaine, Mammon, Good Times, Sex, Sports, Houses, Farms, Jobs, Family. Our hearts are so fallen and so sick that we can even make an idol out of the Bible, the Church, Worship, the Cross, the Lord's Supper Table. Wherever we go, we take these gods along with us. All of them offer only temporary solace and comfort. Unlike Christ, they don't offer comfort for body and soul; unlike Christ, they don't offer comfort in life and in death (as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in Q & A 1).

B Do you remember the time Israel tried to carry the one only true God? The sons of Eli the high priest took the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines because they thought they were carrying God into battle (1 Sam 4). Israel was defeated, the ark was captured, and Eli's two sons were killed in battle.

Do you remember the time David thought God could be carried on the back of an ox cart? When the oxen stumbled and the ark lurched, a priest touched the ark and was killed on the spot (2 Sam 6). No, God cannot be carried from spot to spot like the gods of the heathens.

God cannot be carried and manipulated and moved from place to place. Rather, He is the one Who does the carrying:
(Isa 46:3-4) Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. (4) Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Do you hear what Isaiah is saying? God is NOT the One Who is carried; rather, He is the One Who does the carrying. He upholds and carries and sustains and comforts in life and in death.

Now, as I already indicated, Isaiah is writing to a people in captivity. It is an awful time. Actually, it is the worst time possible. All the nobility and leaders have been shipped off. Jerusalem, the city of God, is no more. The Temple has been destroyed. We know Israel deserved this. They have been warned, again and again, that this is the result for covenant disobedience, for serving other gods, for disobeying God's laws, for forsaking God's ways.

How bad a time is this? The children of Israel themselves describe their experience in psalm:
(Ps 137:1,4) "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept ... How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?"
They can't sing and they don't feel like singing.

What do the people need in this time of distress? What do the people need every day? They need sustaining. They need someone to carry them. That's what God does.
(Isa 46:3-4) "I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you."
He carries in life and in death. He carries body and soul. He carries in leaf and blade. He carries in rain and drought. He carries in fruitful and lean years. He carries in food and drink. He carries in health and sickness. He carries in prosperity and poverty (cf Q & A 27). "I have made you and I will carry you" (Isa 46:4).

Now hear this: we also are a people who need to be carried. We need to be carried whether it is good times or bad times. We need to be carried by God because all things come to us only from His fatherly hand.

Our grandson, Alexander, is often in our home. Right now, Alexander needs to be carried everywhere. He is starting to crawl and walk along furniture but to get most places he needs to be carried. Carrying is good for Alexander and it is good for his parents and grandparents too. A recent study indicates that children who are carried instead of left to themselves grow up to be more confident and assured.

Like Alexander, we need to be carried. We need to be carried through death. We need to be carried through disease. We need to be carried through cancer. We need to be carried through heart-attack and stroke. We need to be carried through old age. We need to be carried through loss of job or loss of business. We need to be carried through divorce and family problems and family fights. Very simply: we need to be carried, and lifted up, and held up, and sustained, and comforted. This is what the one only true God does for us in Jesus Christ.

Look back on 2013. The Lord carried you. Look forward to 2014. The Lord will carry you. God does what the idol gods cannot do.
(Isa 46:5) "To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"

II Second Comparison - Save
A In the second comparison we see that the gods of the heathen cannot save whereas the one true God saves His people. This is what Isaiah says about the idol gods:
(Isa 46:2) They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.

(Isa 46:7) They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles.
Again, Isaiah is looking forward to the time of Cyrus the Persian. At that time will Bel and Nebo provide rescue for Babylon and the Babylonians? No, they themselves go off into captivity. They cannot save from trouble.

We see this in the days of Elijah. There was drought in the land – for 3.5 years there was no dew and no rain. The 850 prophets and priests of Baal danced before their god and cried before their god. They even sliced themselves and cut themselves. But Baal was not able to save. He, the supposed god of fertility, was not able to make it rain upon the earth (cf 1 Kings 18).

Many people today are desperate for help and salvation. But, as with the prophets and priests of Baal, they turn to gods who cannot help and cannot save and cannot intervene. They slash themselves. They chant mantras. They commune with nature. They attend seminars on building self-esteem and releasing the power of your inner-self. They take drugs and alcohol. But nothing helps and nothing saves.

B Then there is the God of the Bible. "I will sustain you and I will rescue you" (Isa 46:4). Rescue is another word for save. He is the God Who saves us in Jesus Christ. He is the God Who from eternity to eternity has a plan to save His people. He is the God Who made a virgin conceive. He is the God Who sent His Son to the cross and raised Him from the dead. He is the God Who welcomed His Son into heaven and gave Him the name that is above every name. He is the God Who someday will judge the living and the dead.

We are a people who need rescue – every single one of us. Because every single one of us are sinners. Apart from the saving work of God in Jesus Christ, each and every one of us can only end up in the fires of hell.

Look back on 2013. The Lord saved you. Look forward to 2014. The Lord will continue to save you. God does what the idol gods cannot do.
(Isa 46:5) "To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"

III Third Comparison - Made
A In the third comparison we see that the gods of the heathen are made while the one true God is the Maker. This is what Isaiah says about the idol gods of the heathen:
(Isa 46:6) Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it.
Earlier, Isaiah talks about the blacksmith who shapes an idol with hammers and a carpenter who fashions a god out of wood (Isa 44).

The idol gods of the heathen are made and fashioned by the hands and/or minds of men. Yet, man foolishly bows before and worships what he himself has made or invented. How silly! How ridiculous! He prays to it and says, "Save me, you are my god" (Isa 44:17). No one stops to think, says Isaiah, that they bow down to what is merely a block of wood (Isa 44:19).

B The Christian, on the other hand, worships the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is the Maker. "I have made you," He says through Isaiah (Isa 46:4). He is the God Who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them. This means He is an almighty God Who is able to do anything, anything He wants to do. But we know that in Christ He is also our faithful Father Who wants to provide whatever I need for body and soul.

Look back on 2013. Look forward to 2014. The Lord is Your Maker and Provider. God does what the idol gods cannot do.
(Isa 46:5) "To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"

IV Fourth Comparison - Prayer
A Our fourth and final comparison has to do with prayer. The gods of the heathen are unable to answer prayer while the one true God is a God Who hears and answers prayer. This is what Isaiah says about the idol gods of the heathen:
(Is 46:7) They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles.
Did you hear that: "It does not answer." Because it cannot answer.

Go back to the prophets and priests of Baal in that contest against Elijah on Mount Carmel. They prayed. They cried. They shouted. They danced with all their might. They slashed themselves. They tried every trick they had. "But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (1 Kings 18:29).

B You know what happened next at Carmel. Elijah ordered four large jars of water to be poured on the offering and on the wood. "Do it again," he said, and they did it again. "Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it a third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the ditch. Elijah prayed. Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench (cf 1 Kings 18:30ff).

Our God hears and answers prayer. Of course He hears and answers prayer. He promises in His Word that He will surely listen to our prayers because of Christ His Son.

Look back on 2013. Think of all the prayers you offered. Look forward to 2014. Think of all the prayers that await you. Everyone of them heard by God. God does what the idol gods cannot do.
(Isa 46:5) "To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?"

Conclusion
At the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, "What's better: Bigger or smaller? Faster or slower? More or less?"

The God Who carries us and saves us and makes us and hears us says, "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isa 46:9). This God simply has no comparison. (HOLD UP POINT TO NEWSPAPER ADVERT) He is bigger, faster, and more reliable.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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